In older scores that have been engraved by hand, it is very common to see something like this:
three bars with sextuplets, the numeral 6 only shown in the first measure

i.e. if there are many of the same tuplets in a row, the tuplet number is shown only for a couple of them, and then it is omitted and sort of "implied".

I sometimes typeset music on a computer, and of course it's no problem for the computer to put the tuplet numbers everywhere automatically. Up to now, I've been doing just that, but I'm wondering whether it's a good idea, given that so many outstanding engravers of the past did it differently.

Personally, I like the numbers being explicit, but as a hobbyist and not a sight-reader, I would like to know:

  1. Why was this practice adopted? "Laziness"? (I can imagine they had better things to do than hammering out tons of "3"s and "6"s.) Or is it clutter reduction that makes the score easier to read for the majority of people?

  2. Would it be good to adopt it in one's own computer typesetting today, too? (That will sort of follow from the first one, though.)

I want to make my scores as readable as possible, and this has been bugging me for quite a long time.

  • The same practice is common in manuscript as well.
    – phoog
    Jul 24, 2022 at 13:01

2 Answers 2


Uncluttered scores are always the best to read.

It is clear from the way the example is written, that bars 33 and 34 follow the same pattern - the timing can't have suddenly changed, and after all, a lot of music follows patterns - as there.

I'd be happier to see a bracket between 1st and 6th tuplet, although the phrase mark does that nicely instead - in this instance. There could be 'sim' written at the beginning of bar 33, which would verify the timing.

It could be laziness, but it's also pretty pointless, and clogs up the works. Good musos will work it out first time, others should tumble to it fairly quickly, so after setting the precedent, as long as that actual pattern continues, don't bother wasting time and ink.

  • 1
    Agreed. From a certain POV, all of music notation is choosing which details to leave out. Jul 25, 2022 at 3:17

In the old days when scores were hand copied of manually engraved, it took time and effort to put the numbers in, so they would mostly be left out where the meaning was obvious.
Nowadays scores are mostly computer engraved and it's more work to take the numbers out than leave them in, so they are usually left in, except in cases where they would clutter the score too much.
Do whatever you think best, if the notation starts getting hard to read remove the numbers. For the example you give, it really doesn't matter if you put the numbers in or leave them out. In a case like that I would use whatever the software does as a default.

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